One of my all-time favorite authors, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, passed away today at the age of 90.
Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov were known as the 'Big Three' of science fiction writers - and sadly, they are all now gone.
Clarke was a true visionary, depicting in his writings and stories such things as the principles of satellite communication, and his three laws:
1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
While 2001: A Space Odyssey, is perhaps his most well-known work, it is only one of the 33 novels he wrote - and that doesn't include his numerous short stories and non-fiction pieces.
As a child, my reading consisted first of Nancy Drew and then science fiction. I read all the books from Clark, Heinlein and Asimov that I could ... and then resorted to searching for their short stories among various collections. I can still remember the wonder and fascination in reading of things that could have been possible and might still be. I lost myself in these stories, never realizing that I was learning much from them in the guise of entertainment.
In 1970, Clarke wrote:
"The inspirational value of the space program is probably of far greater importance to education than any input of dollars... A whole generation is growing up which has been attracted to the hard disciplines of science and engineering by the romance of space."
This was certainly true for me. While I knew I'd never qualify for the astronaut program, the influence of Clarke's writings led me to choose engineering physics as my first major in college. And even as my decisions led me into elective office, I was still influenced by this great writer, who admonished:
"Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories."
Clarke has so many great works, it's hard to pick a favorite. In fact, I don't know that I could select one, or even a few, as favorites because I enjoyed them all. However, I do have a 'most memorable' list. And at the top of the list is Clarke's short story, "The Nine Billion Names of God." I was amazed - and a bit disturbed - by the mind that could conceive of the story's premise: the end of the world upon the discovery of all the names of God.
There is a line in that story that has stayed with me since my first reading - and I think it appropriate to recall it now as we celebrate the life and accomplishments of its author:
"There is always a last time for everything."
Rest in peace, Arthur C. Clarke.